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There's a Good Chap

If you've ever read anything by P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh; if you've ever found yourself saying "“ even just in your head or under your breath "“ "Good show!" "Steady on!" or "Jolly good!"; if you've ever sipped a Martini and contemplated your life as the idle rich; if you've ever longed for a simpler time when men were gentlemen and women were ladies; well, you might be a Chap.

In the hearts and minds of the Chap, the British Empire still looms large on the stage of world power, Americans are still uncouth upstarts, and a G&T (or 10) is still a socially acceptable beverage at lunch (keeps the malaria away, after all). And this past Saturday, more than 1000 Chaps of all shapes, sizes, genders and interpretations of period costume gathered under appropriately gloomy skies in beautiful Bedford Square Gardens in Bloomsbury to celebrate the sixth annual Chap Olympiad.

This exercise in wonderfully creative anachronism was the brainchild of The Chap magazine, a bimonthly glossy dedicated to chronicling and celebrating the achievements of that dying breed, the English gentleman and the English lady. According to its website, "The Chap believes that a society without courteous behaviour and proper headwear is a society on the brink of moral and sartorial collapse, and it seeks to reinstate such outmoded but indispensable gestures as hat doffing, giving up one's seat to a lady and regularly using a trouser press."

Basically, The Chap is seated squarely in the kind of nostalgic thinking (and drinking) that causes 21st century folks to take up swing dancing, attempt to resurrect long-dead cocktails, and wear fashions that were questionable at the time, but are now simply quaint.

linda-chapAnd I absolutely wanted to be a part of it. When my husband and I moved to London back in February, this is precisely what I thought life would be like: An endless supply of G&Ts and Martinis, bon mots and understated witticisms, well turned out gentlemen in proper hats and three-piece suits and ladies in gloves and Victory roll hair-dos. This was the London that I'd read about "“ though mostly in books published before 1945.

However, for the most part, my experience with what the Brits call "fancy dress" has been limited to college: From Glam Rock to Catholic School Girls, college provided boundless opportunities to dress, ahem, provocatively. The Chap Olympiad was something else entirely, an occasion to be a bit more classy. But while the Brits seem to be generally up for any such event, ready to dive into whatever costume the party requires with gusto, my husband and I were a bit more reticent. Would we be the only ones in period costume? Would we look silly?

We needn't have worried. If we stuck out, it was only because we didn't go far enough "“ Chaps came dressed in everything from Victorian-era explorers ensembles complete with pith helmets to1940s servicemen uniforms, from turbans and feathers a la the 1920s to long underwear and top hats. On display was a veritable universe of millinery "“ golf caps to straw hats, bowlers to fedoras, trilbies to beanies, even the odd fez or two "“ and that was just the men "“ while pipes, canes, and proper umbrellas were the accessories of choice. One chap had even come armed with a "skirt-lifting device," with mirror attachment to facilitate said lifting. (I was clad in what another chap called "evacuation chic" "“ "˜40s-style printed dress paired with gray cable-knit socks and brown brogues "“ while my husband opted for a tie, shirt, brown pin-striped pants; we're already planning what we're going to wear next year.)

And despite the constant threat and actual presence of rain "“ which, truth be told, has never really stopped the British from anything "“ the be-costumed Chaps and Chapettes spent a long, lovely afternoon drinking Pimms and G&Ts, complimenting one another on their outfits, and watching or trying their hands at games such as the Grand Steeplechase (just like an ordinary steeplechase, except the jockeys are ladies and the gentlemen kitted up as horses, as well as other beasts of the field), Umbrella Jousting (gentlemen riding full tilt at one another on bicycle, armed with umbrellas and reinforced copies of The Daily Telegraph, and protected by a bowler hat), the Cucumber Sandwich Discus (individuals must hurl a cucumber sandwich on a china plate, with points given to keeping the sandwich on the plate), and even the impromptu game of Spooned Orange Jousting (believe it or not, I actually managed to win a round of that).

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Not exactly activities that kept the sun rising over the British Empire, but a brilliant example of British Chap-manship nonetheless. Queen Victoria would have been more than proud.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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